Architect: Allied Works Architecture — Brad Cloepfil, AIA, principal; Chris Bixby, David Suttle, AIA, Tenna Florian, Nathan Roelofs, Brent Linden, Andrew Hamblin, project team
ASSOCIATE ARCHITECT: Booziotis & Company — Aaron Farmer, AIA, principal
CONSULTANTS: Datum Engineering (structural); G&S Consulting (m/e/p, fire); Jaster Quintanilla (civil); Encore Design Group (theater systems); WHJW (acoustics); Caye Cook and Associates (landscape)
CLIENT: Dallas Independent School District
SIZE: 170,000 square feet (new); 32,000 square feet (renovation)
COST: $55 million
MASONRY: Endicott Clay Products
CURTAIN WALL: Umicore
ALUMINUM WINDOWS: Kawneer
ACOUSTICAL CEILINGS: ICC Sonaspray
FLOORING: American Harlequin (dance studios)
WATERCOOLERS: Halsey Taylor
CASE STUDY: Booker T. Washington High School, Dallas, Texas, Allied Works
Booker T. Washington High School’s location in central Dallas’s developing Arts District offers students proximity to major museums and performance spaces.
Photo: © Jeremy Bittermann
The old booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts was dark, dingy, and chaotic, with students forced to rehearse in stairwells and parking lots, an eight-lane freeway on one side, empty warehouses and vacant lots on another. Yet in spite of all the urban grit, the place was electric, Fame with a Texas twang, where students could be messy and loud and not worry about what the grown-ups thought. Any school that can produce Norah Jones, Edie Brickell, and Erykah Badu is doing something right.
Allied Works Architecture won a 2001 competition for a new school building by honoring this freewheeling creative spirit while giving students the clean, well-lighted studios and rehearsal spaces they had never had. “We wanted to create some privacy and protection for the kids, yet also to connect the school to the expanding Arts District down the street,” explains lead designer Brad Cloepfil, AIA. “So we made the building spiral both in and out.”
The winning scheme had two main components: a four-story, L-shaped “art factory” containing loft studios and rehearsal spaces organized around extra-wide corridors and tall atriums that serve as interior streets and plazas and emphasize light, cross views, and transparency. The second was the renovation and reprogramming of the 1922 building, connected to the new school by a bridge and courtyard.
Opened in 2008, the Arts Magnet, with its new shorthand name, retains the old spirit. Live music floats down the corridors. Dancers practice their pliés in lobbies and studios, which are now visible from the street. Even the cafeteria has a sprung floor (for dancing) and opens to an outdoor stage and amphitheater, called the Green Room, where the entire school can gather for performances. “All this space and flexibility inspires students to try new things and to push limits,” says principal Tracie Fraley. “The building is a performance machine.”
Clustering studios and performance spaces in the new building allowed Dallas-based Booziotis & Company to restore the historic structure for labs, classrooms, and offices. Windows and staircases that were blocked off for decades were reopened, flooding the interior with light. A lunchroom was converted into a gallery, and a dated auditorium into a state-of-the-art black-box theater.
Not everything sings. The gray brick on the exterior is too dark, and when continued inside produces a somber, prisonlike feel. The ceilings’ exposed ducts and conduit, though consistent with the building’s industrial aesthetic, have often been slapped up instead of visually organized. And for all their energy, the students have yet to claim the school with murals and mobiles. Cloepfil said from the start that he wanted students to “mess” with his building, and he is disappointed that this hasn’t happened. “It’s just a bunch of simple brick and concrete spaces that need to be personalized,” he explains. “It can take it.” Fraley agrees and is working hard to bring donors and board members around to that point of view.
Yet everyone also seems to agree that being in the booming Dallas Arts District — which contains major museums by Renzo Piano and Edward Larrabee Barnes, a concert hall by I.M. Pei, and as of October, a new $350 million performing arts center featuring an opera house by Foster + Partners and a theater by REX/OMA — is a huge plus for the school. Students have only to walk a block or two to see, hear, and work with outstanding artists and musicians. And the Arts District gets 800 warm bodies flowing through it five days a week, generating the street life that until now has been mostly wishful thinking. Planners call this cultural symbiosis; the students, and the Arts District, hope it’s more like spontaneous combustion.
Contributing editor David Dillon is the former architecture critic for The Dallas Morning News.
Students gather in the Green Room, an outdoor amphitheater nestled within the center of the old and new buildings (top); The glazed walls of the Arts Theater performance hall contrast with the dark brick of the building’s other facades (2nd from top); Extra-wide corridors and tall atriums serve as interior streets and plazas and emphasize light, cross views, and transparency (3rd from top);The north atrium is flanked by theater and visual arts studios (4th from top);
Stairs, edges, and landings offer opportunities to sit and write, practice and reflect (top);.The artistic disciplines are encouraged to intermingle by their room placement (2nd from top); Students rehearse on stage inside the 475-seat, full proscenium theater (3rd from top). While dancers still practice their pliés in lobbies, the new building’s many studios offer large, bright rehearsal spaces that were lacking in the historic structure (bottom).